Lemon pie

world’s favourite dessert

Top tarts

Lemon pie and Lemon tart are among the world’s favourite desserts: Lemon pie is number one in the USA and Lemon tart or Tarte au citron is in the top three in France. Both names are sometimes used interchangeably but the two preparations are not strictly the same, although they could be described as first cousins.

In culinary history, geography, opportunism and accident can lead to recipes being modified, sometimes just slightly, other times quite radically. This seems to have been the case for this widely appreciated lemon dessert. To understand how we arrived at the lemon tart and the lemon pie, a walk back through history can enlighten us.


The origins of the lemon pie or tart

The lemon pie or tart has a colourful history but historians are not in agreement about its origins. The basic preparation seems to have been invented when someone decided to fill a pastry base with lemon flavoured custard. Even this is the basis for most lemon pies and tarts, wherever they are made.

The lemon custard is usually made of eggs, sugar, lemon juice and sometimes butter or cream and baked in a pastry base. From medieval times in Europe, it was a widely-prepared dessert. Eggs and milk were relatively cheap and found everywhere and, from the 12th century onwards, sugar was also available.

The Silk Route brought us silk as well as lemons

This ubiquitous dessert owes much to the successful cultivation of lemons around the world.


Although lemon trees were first cultivated in northern India, the word lemon is thought to have come from its Persian name, limu, or from the Arabic word laymûn.

The early Romans

The early Romans knew lemons as ‘Median Apples’, named after Media in modern-day Iran.


Lemons were carried over the Silk Routes and introduced to lands across the Middle East, North Africa and eventually all around the Mediterranean by Arab traders.


The fruit was introduced into England from Spain as a gift to Queen Eleanor of Castile.


Christopher Columbus introduced lemon seeds into the New World.

By 1565

 Lemon trees were growing in South Carolina.

Lemons are cultivated in sunny climates as distant as Australia,
South Africa and South America and in countries around the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, Greece and Spain. Naturally, as the fruit has travelled, so have the recipes made from lemons.

The first lemon tart and pie recipes

George Fox, founder of the Quakers. The Protestant Quakers in England invented the lemon pie in the 18<sup>th</sup> century.

It is believed that the lemon custard that came to be known as lemon curd was first prepared in England by Protestant Quakers during the 18th century and that the recipe travelled to North America in 1774 with the Quakers or with the Shakers, a breakaway sect of the Quakers.

A Shaker lemon pie recipe with a pastry base still exists today, but this pie is made with finely shredded lemons, including the peel, and does not usually have a cream filling because the early settlers were very poor.

Elizabeth Goodwell, an American Cook in Philadelphia, who wrote down the first Lemon Pie recipe in 1806.

According to some historians, the first recipe for lemon pie with a pastry base and lemon custard filling was written down in 1806 by Elizabeth Goodwell, an American cook in Philadelphia. Mrs Goodwell ran a pastry shop, where she also organised cookery lessons. One of her signature desserts was a tart filled with a rich lemon custard. The story goes that, as she had to use so many egg yolks for the custard, one day she decided to use the egg whites to make a meringue topping for the lemon pie and thus was the lemon meringue pie born. But this is another fascinating story…

The pie gained great local success and was popularised across the USA, particularly by Mrs Goodwell’s former student Eliza Leslie who incorporated many of Mrs Goodwell’s recipes into her own printed cookbook. Other food historians, however, maintain that the lemon meringue pie was invented in Europe by the Swiss pastry chef Alexander Frehse.

Names… and names

Today, a lemon pie in the Americas most often but not always signifies a lemon meringue pie, whereas in Europe, there are two distinct lemon and pastrybased desserts, which are generally referred to as tarts. A pie usually refers to a preparation that has a deeper pastry base, whilst a tart has a much shallower pastry base.

The classic French Lemon tart has a shallow pastry base and a lemon custard filling, whilst the Lemon meringue tart usually has a deeper pastry base, filled with lemon custard or curd and meringue on top.

As eating habits have changed, so too have lemon pies and tarts: these days they are made in single portions as well as family-sized, but however they are presented and whatever their name, everyone agrees that the golden little lemon continues to make some of the world’s most elegant and delicious desserts.

These melt-in-the-mouth creations are prepared by professional chefs everywhere from the local patisserie and bistro to the pastry kitchens of the great and the good, as well as in kitchens in the home.

The Protestant Quakers in England invented the lemon custard in the 18th century.

Key lime joins the party

In its lime version, the tart is called the Key Lime Pie. It is a real institution in Florida where the sailors of the Keys consumed it in large quantities to fight the scurvy because of its high content of vitamin C.

If lemon was already used in the Middle Ages to disinfect and cure illnesses and sailors used lime as a medicine, there is no reason to deprive themselves of lemon tart whatever their color!


Lemon Pie Tart

Short crust

Tegral Patacrout* (cake mix) 1000g
Mimetic 32* (margarine) 400g
Whole eggs 100g

Mix all ingredients to a homogenous dough. Laminate to 3 mm. Bake at 180°C for 18 min, damper open. After baking, fill with the Deli Lemon Pie* and bake again for approx. 18 min at 180°C.

Swiss meringue

Egg whites 250g
Sugar 500g

Warm up both ingredients together on the stove or over a double boiler to 60-70°C. Pour into a mixing bowl mixer with a whisk, and whip it to stiff peak. Pipe little dots and bake at 80°C for 2 hours.

Composition & Decoration

Make and bake (half baked) the short crust tart shells. Fill with the Deli Lemon Pie* and bake. After cooling down put Miroir Glaze Neutral* on the top and finish with the meringue.

* Puratos product

Lemon Pie Mille-Feuille

Short crust

Tegral Patacrout* (short crust mix) 1000g
Mimetic 32* (lamination fat) 400g
Whole eggs 100g

Mix all ingredients to a homogenous dough. Laminate to 2,5 mm. Bake at 180°C for 12-14 minutes, damper open. After baking, put a layer of Deli Lemon Pie* and bake again for approx 5 minutes at 180°C.

Swiss meringue

Egg whites 250g
Sugar 500g

Warm up both ingredients together on the stove or over a double boiler to 60-70°C. Pour into a mixing bowl mixer with a whisk, and whip it to stiff peak. Pipe little dots and bake at 80°C for 2 hours.

Composition & Decoration

Make and bake short crust discs. Once cooled down, spread a layer of Deli Lemon Pie* and bake again for 5 minutes to make the Deli Lemon Pie* set. Make the build up and on the last layer finish with a Miroir Glaze Neutral* (glaze) and the Swiss meringue.

* Puratos product

Deli Solutions

Deli Lemon Pie

Deli Lemon Pie is a unique product which allows you to create a real and authentic Lemon Pie. Enriched with eggs, you will enjoy a fabulous taste and a perfect clean cut.

Deli Citron

Deli Citron is mainly used as a filling, made from milk and a fresh touch of lemon juice. It gives a fresh touch of acidity to delectably delightful custard. Used for cakes, tarts, pies, pastries and pralines.

Deli Orange

An interesting revisit of Deli Citron is Deli Orange, that will delight all your preparations with a sweet-sour orange taste. For the pleasure of your clients.

Deli Key Lime

Deli Key Lime is the unique product to reproduce the authentic recipe of the Key Lime Pie from Florida. Made with lime, it will delight you with a fresh and sweet touch of acidity.

For more information

Photo Credits
Studio Wauters; Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock.com; bonchan/Shutterstock.com; Lukasz Szwaj/Shutterstock.com; MoreVector/Shutterstock.com; Maximova Evgeniya/Shutterstock.com; American author Eliza Leslie from Librarycompany.org; George Fox, image from bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01f67y4